Durban - Three-time Comrades Marathon champion Bongmusa Mthembu is preparing to spearhead a South African team at the IAU 50km World Championships in Romania in September while trying to overcome the death of very close friend and Witness reporter Nondumiso Zakwe.
The Bulwer-born Maritzburg resident - who won the Two Oceans in Cape Town in April and finished second in the Comrades in Pietermaritzburg last month - has been included in a 12-member national team alongside current Comrades champion Edward Mothibi for the event taking place in the central Romanian town of Brasov on September 1.
They are joined in the six-member men’s unit by fellow Comrades star David Gatebe, as well as Lungile Gongqa, Charles Tjiane and Joseph Manyedi.
The six-strong women’s team comprises Jenna Challenor, Yolande Maclean, Salome Cooper, Ntombesintu Mfunzi, Kathryn van Meter, and Deanne Horn.
Mthembu says he is delighted at having another opportunity to represent his country, having made two appearances at the World 100km Championships over the past three years, but admits that it’s hard to stay fully focused all the time after 32-year-old Zakwe was buried in her home village of Mandleni outside Tugela Ferry last month after a battle with cancer.
“She is still in my mind,” said the professional runner on Wednesday.
“I have been seeing a sports psychologist to help me and I have also been speaking to my friends about Nondumiso’s death.
“I have realised that the more I speak about it, the better it is for me.”
He said his relationship with Zakwe had been a very private one by mutual agreement, but he hoped to be in the right frame of mind upon arrival in Romania.
“It’s always an honour to represent your country and going overseas also helps you to learn more about yourself and the sport.
“I tried my best at Comrades last month, but it was just Mothibi’s day. I have nothing to complain about.
“This will be my first appearance in the World 50km Championships in Romania, but I am not scared of it because I did well at the Two Oceans 56km this year and I expect it to be a similar race. I also have good experience of going overseas and doing well in the World 100km Championships. I came second the first time in Spain in 2016 and then third in Croatia last year.
“This will also be a good challenge for Mothibi and the others, after Comrades.
“The big hope for Romania is to race for a gold medal and get a team prize for the country,” he said.
Bongmusa Mthembu, David Gatebe, Edward Mothibi, Lungile Gongqa, Charles Tjiane, Joseph Manyedi
Salome Cooper, Ntombesintu Mfunzi, Yolande Maclean, Jenna Challenor, Kathryn van Meter, Deanne Horn